Dumbbell Back Exercises

I decided to write this page after a friend of mine asked me what dumbbell back exercises I would suggest, because all he could think of was bent over rows.

Well, I had to think for a bit, and fortunately I came up with six exercises that are quite effective for back workout.

Dumbbell Back Exercises Bent Over Row FinishI am talking about:

  • Bent Over Rows
  • Shrugs
  • Deadlifts
  • Upright Rows
  • Stiff Leg Deadlifts
  • Bent Over Reverse Fly

Let's see how to do them, one by one with some pictures.

Dumbbell Back Exercises - The Full Guide

Bent Over Rows

Want to work out the middle back? Bent over rows can be done one arm at the time or both arms together. The difference is that doing one arm at the time allows you to focus more on the movement because you don't have to worry too much about the balance.

In fact, with one arm rows you can place your free hand on a support like I did here.

Dumbbell Back Exercises - One Arm Bent Over Row Start
Dumbbell Back Exercises - One Arm Bent Over Row Finish

One Arm Rows

If you have a bench perfect, you can do it exactly like at the gym. Place the opposite knee on the bench and the other foot flat on the ground.

How wide? It's up to you, the wider the more balance...but just make it comfortable for the execution.

With the other hand, grab the end of the bench, bending over so that your back is, in the ideal case, parallel to the floor.

Grab a dumbbell from the ground and lift it till your upper arm is horizontal. Basically, try to squeeze your shoulder blades and if you can't do that use a lower weight.

What if you don't have a bench?

Well...no problem, you can keep both feet on the floor and bend over placing your other hand on a chair or on anything that allows you to take the stress off your lower back.

Note: the weight should move vertically, no swinging. And you arm moves adherent to your body. Some push the elbow towards the outside but that's cheating.

Two Arms

If you decide to do a two arm bent over row it becomes more tricky, and it requires more care on your lower back. This is common with other two dumbbell back exercises: bent over reverse fly and stiff leg deadlifts.

You have to bend over but without curving your back as it must stay rigid the whole time.

From the upright position, bend over focusing on keeping your back rigid and stop when that's no longer possible. Feet should be shoulder wide open.

You can already see that's not so easy to stay in that position, and if you add the fact that you have to lift weights you can imagine the stress on your lower back.

Other than that, the exercise is almost the same: in this case you can keep the palms facing you, like when you do bent over barbell rows.

Note: you kinda have to bend your knees slightly.

Dumbbell Back Exercises - Two Arm Bent Over Row Start
Dumbbell Back Exercises - Two Arm Bent Over Row Finish


Shrugs, with upright rows, is one of the dumbbell back exercises to work out the traps.

This exercise is very simple and the range of movement if quite limited.

From an upright position (standing or seated), grab two dumbbells and extend your arm along your sides.

At that point, just raise your shoulders without bending the elbows and squeeze the traps.

Note: instead of raising your shoulders towards the front, raise them towards the back, so you can squeeze the traps better. Palms are facing your sides.

Dumbbell Back Exercises - Shrugs Start
Dumbbell Back Exercises - Shrugs Finish

Upright Rows

This is another trap workout that is usually done with a straight bar or cables, but there is also the dumbbell version.

The start position is similar to the previous shrug start position. You just extend your arms in front of your legs with the palms facing you.

Then raise the dumbbells towards your chin, keeping the elbows high.

Dumbbell Back Exercises - Upright Rows Start
Dumbbell Back Exercises - Upright Rows Finish


Amongst the dumbbell back exercises, deadlifts is the one that I usually don't recommend doing because it's a bit dangerous, but I describe it anyway because it needs to be in the list.

Usually you put quite a lot of weight on the barbell during deadlifts, let's say that if you weigh 180 pounds and you can lift your weight it is about 140 pounds plus the barbell.

With dumbbells you would have to use the 90 pound dumbbells. With that much weight it's easy to lose balance, do the exercise in the wrong form, and..snap!

Anyway, the exercise is exactly like when you do it with a barbell.

Place the weights on the ground beside you. Open your feet about shoulder wide. The dumbbells are just beside your feet.

Grab them keeping the palms facing you (this is different from the barbell version) and squat down to reach them, and keep your back rigid and straight (do not curve it).

Start lifting using only your legs until you extend your knees (you should still be bending forward).

At this point the second part of the exercise involves your lower back with the last extension to get to the upright position.

Dumbbell Back Exercises - Deadlift Start
Dumbbell Back Exercises - Deadlift Middle
Dumbbell Back Exercises - Deadlift Finish

Deadlifts is a very complete exercise because it involves big muscles like legs (for the first part), but it fits this dumbbell back exercises section because of the second part of the movement with the lower back extension.

Stiff Leg Deadlifts

Also stiff leg deadlifts can fit in the dumbbell leg and dumbbell back exercises group.

It's a very effective exercise for hamstrings and lumbar muscles.

It is basically the second part of the deadlift movement, see above for the description.

stiff leg deadlifts down
stiff leg deadlifts start

Bent Over Reverse Fly

Where does bent over reverse fly belong...to the dumbbell shoulder or dumbbell back exercises? I'd say both, as it works rear deltoids for the most part, but also the rhomboids.

To do this, you have to bend over, ideally 90 degrees (but it's almost impossible), and keep your back straight and rigid. Slightly bend your knees to improve the balance.

Grasp the dumbbells and extend your arms towards the ground, vertically. Your elbows should be slightly bent.

At this point lift the weights doing a lateral raise with both arms, till you lift the dumbbells at shoulder height. Then slowly return to the initial position.

Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises - Bent Over Reverse Fly Start
Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises - Bent Over Reverse Fly Finish

Looking to Buy Dumbbells? Here Some Ideas

I realize that not everybody can have a set of N dumbbells at home, because the truth is...they take a lot of room. That's why, if you're looking to buy dumbbells to use at home, I strongly recommend the following types. My favourites are the Bowflex adjustable dumbbells, even though I have different types. In fact, they're not the only ones out there. For example I have a different type of adjustable dumbbells, those where you add the plates to obtain the desired weight. I prefer the Bowflex dumbbells because you can change the weight in one "click". I had a chance to use the last model I showed you when I trained in a hotel gym...here is the actual pair I used:


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